Thankfully, my mom is pretty modern (and an excellent cook). So when she divulged her recipe for niu rou mian—pretty much the quintessential Chinese noodle soup—I took notes. She also happens to hail from Taiwan, known to nrm enthusiasts as "heaven on earth." Her method calls for making a broth from beef shank, then separately making up a sort of tarka to toss into the broth. This combination then stews for about four hours, slowly turning the humble shank into luxuriously tender meat. Definitely do not undertake this project on an empty stomach!
Niu Rou Mian (My Mother's Recipe)
2-3 lbs of beef shank
Water to cover
Green onion and ginger
Soy sauce/salt to taste
2 tablespoons of canola oil
2 teaspoons of sugar
6 tablespoons of Szechuan peppercorn
2-3 tablespoons of minced (or grated) ginger
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and minced
2-3 star anise
2 tablespoons of spicy chili bean paste
1 tablespoon cayenne or Indian red chili powder (optional)
OTHER SOUP INGREDIENTS
1 lb tendon (optional)
½ lb of Chinese greens (I used Shanghai bok choy hearts)
Noodles (homemade or fresh store bought)
Slivered zha cai (Szechuan pickled vegetable)
1. Place the whole beef shank in a large pot or Dutch oven with enough water to cover. Add about 4-5 stalks of green onion (well-rinsed) and 4-5 slices of ginger. Do not salt! This will ruin the flavor of the broth; you will be adding soy/salt at the very end. Cover and bring to a boil, then turn down to a strong simmer for about half an hour. Remove and discard green onion and ginger. Then take the shank out and carve it into largish chunks, placing these (along with any juices) back into the pot. You will want a very good serrated knife for this task, as the shank is very tough to cut.
2. Heat the oil for the seasoning paste in a medium-sized frying pan. Add the sugar and stir until completely dissolved and just starting to caramelize (you will see a golden brown color appear in the bottom of the pan). Then add the rest of the seasoning paste ingredients and stir vigorously for about 90 seconds. This will smell fantastic, and you will want to eat a bowl of beef noodles right on the spot. Not so fast, my friend, you've still got three or four hours left to go. Throw this delicious mixture into the broth pot.
5. About 15 minutes before serving, add soy/salt to taste. I added about 2 tablespoons of low sodium soy sauce and a quarter teaspoon of salt. Remove the peppercorns and star anise with a Chinese spider or skimmer. If you miss a few peppercorns, don't worry. They're edible, just a little bitter.
6. Prepare your noodles according to the package instructions. Shanghai noodles are available at most Asian markets, and work the best here. Or you can make your own, a surprisingly simple task that I document here. You have about six hours to kill anyway. Blanch veggies in the same pot of water. In your soup bowl, place a ball of noodles, followed by veggies. Pour about two cups of beef broth over, then add a few pieces each of beef and tendon. Scatter the top with slivered zha cai and green onions and serve.
Bonus: making a big pot of nrm will steam your windows up on a cold SF day.